"Old as the sky, old as the moon" My tribute to The last unicorn (includes progress photos!)

Hi everyone! How are you?

First, let me show you what you came to see:

the last unicorn tribute
Art: ©2015. Diana Vargas Sampieri (Dianita). All rights reserved.
The last unicorn is property of Peter S. Beagle.

"Old as the sky, old as the moon"

Tribute to The last unicorn
Acrylics on wood.
8in x 6in painted area approximately.

$125 usd + shipping.
Sales info: dianitaarts@gmail.com

She was supposed to be participating on Slushbox Gallery show "Nerdcore", but having my wisdom teeth removal surgery scheduled for April 30th distracted me and couldn't develop the idea properly on time. I tried to finish it, but those days after surgery I experienced painful muscle spasms and 2 sleepless and uncomfortable nights in a row. So, yay me.  Hugs to Amanda and all the team from Slushbox, they're amazing!  Go visit their site http://www.slushbox.com and check their current show pieces there!

I documented the process as well as I could, there were some steps I missed and I blame my meds for that!


1.  The sketch.

the last unicorn tribute
Messy messy!

Just right after surgery, this dumb girl tried to woman up and start doing things right away. Good, you might think. WRONG!  But one thing came up well that day, and it was this final sketch. I had the idea lying around for weeks, but when your doctor sets the day for your first surgery ever you can't really focus on much =|

I didn't spend much time on details here, I knew what I wanted, I aimed for a cute, dynamic pose that could fit on a wood piece I got from Michaels (http://www.michaels.com). I love those wood rounds!

Anyway, my advice to you, sketch your ideas!  Basic sh!t, right?  well, I fail horribly on it. I always go "Leeeeeeroyyyy Jeeeenkeeeeeeeiiiins" when I'm excited and yes, as you imagine, I never finish those pieces because I get lost in the middle of the process. Sooo, plan as much as you can!

2. Sketch to wood.
And, no pic here! =D

But, it's not that hard!

You can check the process here, very very well explained by Jel Ena:


In the video, you can actually see that she takes her sketch and adds a layer of graphite on the back of the sheet.  What I did was that I actually made a photocopy of my sketch, so I didn't have to tear my sketchbook apart, and on the back of the photocopy, I added the graphite with what I think it was a 2B Mars pencil.

If you have a more detailed sketch, you might see that the photocopy will not take many of the details as it should, here it wasn't my case as it was a messy one. But if you find yourself in that situation, you could add one more step:  If you have a lightbox, trace your drawing on a new paper, I would use a normal printer paper if the piece is small or other kind of cheap paper if you prefer. So you will be adding graphite to the back of cheap paper instead of your sketchbook!  (again, basic, but this is not my forte, I swear!)

And, if you don't have a lightbox, go the cheap way like me!  you might have windows at home, right? this will involve to tear your sketchbook page out, but you can carefully store it in a safe location with acid free plastic bags. I use to do this when I have to take this path.  Just tape it on the window, tape your new sheet on top of it and trace, trace, trace!  Of course, daylight hours are a must.

Or, you can go the cheapskate way (not that I've done it *cof cof*), if you have a small desk lamp and a glass table, those make good cheap lightboxes too =P   and if you're very veeery limited and only have a desk lamp... a little bird told me you can tape a sheet of paper to it and then your drawing on top, with the new sheet glued to it.  It's challenging, and sloooow...  but it works  *ehem*  yes, the bird told me so!

White lights are good and the best ones for this from my experience.

Of course, I forgot again to photograph the traced drawing.  But it's not that hard to imagine it, it was closer to the initial sketch =)

This is the transferred image with detailing added:

I wanted to add more and more details T^T  I loved the backgrounds in the movie!
After the sketch is ready, I added a couple layers of Golden Matte Medium. I love this one, it works as a clear sealant that won't add too much grain to the surface, but enough to handle oils or acrylics, or to mix with PearlEx pigments <3

I think I added 2 layers, well thinned down with a bit of water.  After the first layer dried, I added the 2nd, again, thinned down, but not watery!

You let this dry overnight and you're ready =)

3. Blocking background colors.

You can see the actual reference image on my phone.  And that spunky brush on the left! The oldest one I have!

Blocking the colors is something I've learned in this months.  Many, if not all artist I follow does this methodically. Usually, they block colors with acrylics to speed the drying process and then add the last layers with oils.  I will start doing this too, I just need to learn a bit of color theory! 

I happily understood quickly that the base color for the background had to be yellow. YAY!

By looking at the pic, I tried to come up with a practical color palette. This was, from Golden Acrylics Cadmium yellow, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, golden green, dioxazine purple, naples yellow, burnt umber, teal and titanium white.  From Grumbacher Academy I used Hooker's green and Thio Violet.  From Americana, I used Evergreen. Oh, and from Winsor&Newton Galeria, Pale Terracotta.

I took my Golden Acrylics Cadmium Yellow and made a quick wash on the whole background. I left the unicorn out of the yellow washes because I didn't want for the yellow to be too noticeable in the final stages. I'll talk about it later =) .   As you can see on my reference photo, the whole sky is yellow, the trees in the middle are more like ochre and the trees exactly behind the unicorn are like a dark gold/greenish color.  So I decided this was going to be my order.

You can see in the pic that I used a light wash of  Cadmium yellow for the sky. Then started to add a bit of a darker color on the 2nd layer with the yellow ochre mixed still with cadmium yellow.

It doesn't show here, but I tried to cover with 2 or 3 layers of each shade, to hide any imperfection but don't worry too much about it! Remember that this are only your first layers =)

4. Building up.  

YAY! Blurry pic!  just as you wanted to see!  * hides *
And yeah, I don't have a good pic of the next steps. This was the process.

* Kept adding more cadmium yellow to build a solid yellow sky on the background.

* Started to add light washes of color.  For the trees, washes of burnt sienna, sometimes mixed with a bit of yellow ochre to keep the yellow influence of the background. I also built the shadow/light areas of the trees in the right part of the painting.  Ochre + burnt sienna for the medium color areas, pure burnt sienna for the shadows.  The yellow bushes were a mix of cadmium yellow and ochre.  The green bushes I used cadmium yellow + golden green.  For the dark green bush I used phtalo green first from Grumbacher, but it's a bit blueish, so it didn't go well. So I added layers of Hooker's green from Grumbacher Academy.  This worked wonders for the round bush to the right.

* Started to build up texture on the trees using the darker tone I assigned for each one.  Burnt sienna for the bushes on the back and burnt umber for the ones closer to the front.  The tree immediately to the left of the unicorn had also some hints of golden green and ochre while working on it.

* The yellow bushes on the left were the ones I started detailing. It was easier to make this decision as the layers were ready for detailing already in that zone (burnt sienna for shadow, ochre/cadmium yell. for the medium color and pure cadmium yellow for the lighter.  I didn't add white as I wanted the unicorn to be the whiter element there.  So when starting to add the leaves, I used burnt sienna for the darker ones, ochre for the medium ones and naples yellow for the brighter ones on the top.

* For the ground, it was an easy choice. Ochre washes until the surface was evenly covered. Then cadmium yellow for the rounds.

This was how it looked after doing all I mentioned above:

Still in the ugly phase, but something it's certain. A few layers after, it always get better, I promise!

5. The Unicorn and adding more detail.

Again, looks like a magic step here =o

Patience! Building layers takes patience, it's worth it!

I took this photo after doing just a bit of work. Looks like a lot, but I discovered that it's just matter of following steps when it's the time, not rushing anything and enjoying the process.

What I did to reach this stage was:

* Trees in the right: Made sure that the base shape was well defined and lighter/medium/shadow zones were clearly covered (yellow/ochre/burnt sienna).  Then I started to add the leaves. The darker ones in the darker zones, the medium colored ones in the medium shade zone and the lighter ones on the edges where the strong yellow light hits. I played with naples yellow and cadmium yellow on this, no white so far! I also added a different tree with some flowers hanging, I liked that detail on the background of my reference pic and wanted to add it. Same happened here, Darker green in the basic shape, lighter green for the leaves.

*Bush with heart leaves: This was actually a challenge. This one had a green that I could only achieve with ochre + golden green, and golden green is a very translucent color, so it took a while until I got that shape covered. I decided to add Hooker's green for the hearts, but it wasn't offering lots of covering neither, so I used it as base and then added a layer of the Americana Evergreen, wich had enough opacity to cover the areas without messing too much with other colors around.

*Round green bush. Again, Hooker's green for the shape, and for the spikes I mixed golden green with ochre and applied with a small brush.

*Small brown bushes. I painted first the darker shades with burnt umber, then added ochre lines and then white + cad. yellow for the lighter lines.

*Plants in the front. All this lines were made with Hooker's green and a bit of golden green for lighter areas.

*The Unicorn.  Again, you can see I was only covering with a flat layer of medium tone colors.  I used Thio Violet from Grumbacher Academy + Dioxazine Purple from Golden for the outlines. Thio Violet is a warmer shade, but I didn't want to add any brown to it, as I wanted the unicorn to look out of place, but in place... I wanted her to look like a mythic creature not only for the horn on her forehead.  So Dioxazine for the darker areas and thio violet for the medium areas of her hair.  For the body I used washes of pale terracotta, a bit of white on the mix and thio violet washes for the shades. Try to build up your shapes in this stage, as in following stages you will only bringing up the lights without much hassle =D

6. The stage without pics, damn wisdom teeth extraction!

Badaboom! Magic!

Yes, I'm sorry, I spent May 4th to May 6th with growing pain on my extraction areas and couldn't sleep much. I tried to work bit by bit on this painting but was sporadic and didn't document it =(

This was the 99% finished piece.

Having explained part of the process above, you can now see how the layers were buil:

* Unicorn's body shades:  Were a mixture of thio violet, and yes, I didn't wanted to add browns, BUT, there's the influence of a yellowish - brownish environment, so some of that warmth had to be added to her, so I used very thin washes of burnt sienna on her belly, her front legs, the shadows that her hair make on her fur and around her eyes to shape them a bit more.

* Unicorn hair.  We had previously build our hair shapes with thio violet and dioxazine purple. it was just matter of adding lighter details on her hair to add light and a bit of movement. I used my tiniest brush and thin layers of titanium white to paint this, just enjoy doing it just trying to remember that she has light coming from behind and also some light from the front. Play with the idea. I honesty didn't know what I was doing sometimes, but if you're afraid, go and check books, photographs , etc. So you can have a better understanding of light and its behavior.  I know I'm no master, I have lots to learn, but if I don't finish something I will stay here sucking my finger for the rest of my life xD

And I knew I wanted a mythical cute unicorn, and this was it !  No light source was going to stop me! *cries*

* TIP:  When having your shapes stablished, don't rush!  It's tempting as you're near the end just to spit white and get over with, right?  Try something different instead, get you favorite thin brush, your white, some clean water and start with diluted white, like almost transparent and play with the fur, thin lines of diluted white on the lighter parts of your shape, next, you will dilute a bit less, so the white lines will be more visible, and so on.  Also, you will see that the shape will be forming in front of your eyes, you will also notice that the whiter areas will be smaller as you keep working.  I also added some whiter areas to show texture on her belly and back legs.  Play with your brush, you'll discover new ways to achieve the look you want for your painting.

* This was the layer where I most used white. you can see that there's no white all over, I tried to leave this for the lightest areas of this painting: The unicorn, some leaves, the flowers in front, and the flowers in the back as well as the outer line of the trees in the back.  If you use too much white, you will limit yourself a lot with the rest of the colors! It's a very bad habit of mine, so I want this to change already!

* Added the lines of the sun just for fun, as well as the butterflies, I thought it needed a bit of movement and interaction with other critters. And they serve as well as a guide for your eyes to focus on her head, I hope so!

* As I was in the last details, I adde a bit of washed down Teal for some areas to add some volume and just a bit of very veeery watered down burnt siena on the hooves.  I added some burnt sienna to build the shadow on the ground. Fixed the texture of the ground with more yellow and some white for the lighter areas.

* Finished with the flowers and the plants in front.

And, I think that's all!

Ohh  if you wonder about her eyes!  I used dioxazine purple as the darker color, and then a mix of thio violet, yellow ochre and cad. yellow for the iris and then the white spot and some little spots with a bit of watered down white.

7. Sealing -> the end!
I added a couple layers of Jo Sonja's gloss varnish with a soft brush. Let it dry and well, show it to your loved ones =D

My last thoughts.
I acknowledge I need to learn a lot about painting. Some color theory won't hurt me!  But if something I've learned in this years is that, no matter how bad you think you worked on a piece. In a couple months later, you will be proud of what you did.  Don't stop trying, don't stop educating yourself.  We all have to keep learning in order to be better!

I learned a lot with this piece, first of all, planning. And with this comes the "take it slowly".  If you see that after 3 layers you feel you have a big ugly mess, it's how it's supposed to look at that stage. That "mess" will be the strong base in where you're building your whole painting. Spend the necessary time on this and you'll be spending less time fixing stuff in the end.

Last, but not least.  Don't over do it!  I've learned this as the years have passed. It's difficult because you might want to add a lot, but if you're prone to do this, leave your brush, take a deep breath and step away from it. If tomorrow you still want to add that detail, then add it. If not, then proceed to the next area you need to work with.  Adding details while working on the blocking of the shapes will make you lose perspective about the whole scene. I believe you need to add colors at the same time you try to understand how it affects the rest of your image. It might not show on this one painting, but hopefully in the future it will, but as a learning piece, I'm very very proud!

Why? you might ask.

Because I followed steps. Which is difficult when having focus issues =o  And I use to get very sad in the "ugly phase".  So actually finishing it was quite an achievement!

So, this is it.  I hope you find this helpful in your practice.  This is more my experience than a tutorial, but I wanted to share it with you in case that you might want a different perspective and to see that we all go through doubts while working on something!

Thanks a lot for watching and remember, if you have questions about materials I used, or about a step on the process, let me know through the comments!

You can also check my FB https://www.facebook.com/dianitaart and send me a message there =)

Also, please, don't use my images without permission!

Have a wonderful weekend!